Odd Numbers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is an essay about what makes odd numbers odd.

Submitted: April 30, 2016

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Submitted: April 30, 2016



One of the earliest mathematical concepts taught in school after counting and adding is the concept of odd numbers. They are the foundation for other topics like division, and prime numbers. So what is it that makes odd numbers odd? Perhaps it is that they cannot be easily pigeonholed into one category. The mathematical definition of an odd number is a number that is not evenly divisible by 2. An odd number is an integer as well as a natural number but it is also a prime number. An odd number is missing a counterpart that allows it to be evenly divided.  If an odd number is divided by 2, it results in a fraction, a type of number that is less than whole. This specific property means that even numbers are easier to manipulate mathematically because we are used to balance and symmetry. This concept of balance is central to an understanding of “oddness.”  Two odd numbers added together always equal an even number, which is balanced because it has equal parts of the same number in it. On the outside, the human body is symmetrically divided into two parts with two eyes, two ears, two hands, two arms, two legs, one on each side. To successfully ride a bicycle requires a good sense of balance. Riding a unicycle, on the other hand, is best reserved for entertainment at the circus and, let’s face it, just plain odd. 

The common definition of odd is “different from what is usual or expected; strange.”  To be odd is to have something essential missing. We seem to have a morbid fear of oddness because it is considered a negative quality and is interpreted to mean that there is something lacking that makes a person or thing unacceptable or unwelcome.  The English language includes terms such as “an odd sort” or “odd duck” or “odd man out” to refer to a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set in some way. 

In a June 11, 2015 article in the online magazine “Frontiers in Psychology”, researchers James Wilkie and Galen Bodenhausen postulated that objects, actions and concepts can even have gender associations and further found that such associations profoundly influenced people’s perceptions and decision-making processes. In a 2012 experiment they conducted, “participants rated the concept of “even numbers” as relatively feminine and the concept of “odd numbers” as relatively masculine. Further, they found that when odd numbers were arbitrarily paired with gender-ambiguous stimuli (baby faces or foreign names), the stimuli were rated as more likely to be male, yet when even numbers accompanied the same stimuli, they were more likely to be seen as female.” A 1994 study by Eagly and Mladinic referenced in the same article found that qualities that were generally perceived as feminine were associated with greater likability. Therefore, since odd numbers were considered “masculine” they tended to be looked on less favorably than even numbers.

Because “odd” stands out, it seems to require something else that garners societal acceptance or approval. The late singer David Bowie was known for being a highly gifted individual. In his early years, he was also known as someone who was prone to get into a lot of fights, stemming perhaps from undiagnosed high anxiety. Today, educators would consider him twice exceptional both for his musical genius as well as his personality deficits. Growing up, however, he would have been considered “odd” for his inability to conform to societal expectations. Jeremy Lin, currently point guard for the Charlotte Hornets, parlayed his above average height into an education at Harvard and a reputation for being one of the few Asian Americans to play in the NBA. But in the Asian culture, that very same characteristic made him an oddity. Symmetry and beauty are often associated together. The Storm Modeling agency has represented many conventional beauties such as Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss and Behati Prinsloo, all of whom have very symmetrical features. Women plagued by insecurities about their physical appearance can be inspired by British model Moffy.  She first appeared on the cover of Pop magazine in the summer of 2013. Although she has many of the features that would normally be considered de rigeur for a successful career in the fashion industry, Moffy is noticeably cross eyed. However, that has not stopped her from being one of the new young faces of the Storm Agency.

Almost every society values uniformity and conformity so we don’t know how to deal with things that deviate from our comfort zone. However, what is familiar can also quickly become uninteresting and easily ignored because of that very conformity. That which is unusual or falls outside the norm requires more work to understand and appreciate so it also cannot be as easily dismissed.  A 2000 article in the European Review by I.C. McManus, entitled “Symmetry and asymmetry in aesthetics and the arts”contrasts symmetry and asymmetry as “a struggle between two opponents of equal power, the formless chaos, on which we impose our ideas, and the all too formed monotony, which we brighten up by new accents.”  Evenness could not exist without oddness. So being “odd” would really seem to be a desirable attribute because it forces a second look and also serves as an inspiration, as it compels us to change and enliven our world in new and positive ways.


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